How to listen to Carnatic music?

I have a simple suggestion for the header on this Buddha Purnima day. List the very popular musicians today, go back, and listen to their concerts 10 or 15 years ago. That should, mostly, make for a very satisfying listening.

You will commit Type I errors. That is you might waste time listening to those who do not satisfy the null – ‘if an artist is popular today, he or she would have been a prodigious talent when young’. That is Type I error – accepting the null when the null is false.

You would commit Type II error too – rejecting the null, when the null is true. That is, you might reject a good artist because he or she is not popular.

You would not even be selecting them because they may not be popular today. You may not identify such artists.

But, the difference is that you would not know that you are committing a Type II error. The impossibility of the counterfactual in real life, real time!

Of course, you can choose to minimise one of the two errors as with most quality control settings. If you recall your high school statistics, you may not mind good pieces being rejected but you might be particular that no bad one seeps through.

Only, in this case, you would do the opposite.

You would probably list popular, moderately popular and mildly popular artists and listen to them from the past. You would rather listen to over-hyped talent and then reject them than let go of good talent without listening to them.

Why this sudden ‘enlightenment’? Well, today is Siddhartha Jayanti. That is probably one explanation. Ok. The real explanation is that I had bought a one-year subscription to Charsur digital archives during the Chennai Music Season 2016-17 at the NSG Mini Hall in Chennai. I was listening to Sanjay Subramanian’s ‘Shubha Pantuvarali’ from a concert in 2002. It was fabulous. That explains this blog post.

Of course, needless to add, this is not the only way to listen to Carnatic Music.

Chennai music season – Part 1

I arrived in Chennai on Dec. 17.

On 18th, I began my attendance at the Chennai Music festival by listening to Tiruchur Brothers for 40 minutes at the Music Academy.

Then, I went over to the Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha to listen to Nirmala Rajasekhar play the veena. Despite all the troubles with the mike, she gave a vivacious and memorable concert. Her violinist Padma Shankar was brilliant. Shri ‘Tanjore’ Murugabhupathi was a lovely source of support. The ‘Kanjira’ Vidwan too was energetic. Overall, a wholesome concert.

Next was Malladi Brothers. It was good. Ravikumar’s Kalyani Alapana was nice and deep. They sang a krithi by Nallan Chakravarti Krishnaswami who had served in AIR Vijayawada for fifty years. It was a lovely krithi in praise of the Ambaal, in Sanskrit, I thought.  They praised the man as some one who knew the Sastras well – Meemaamsa, Vyakaranam, Sanskrit, etc.

Still, I feel that the Malladi Brothers need a second wind.

Next morning (19.12), it was the lecture demo by Shri. Sriram Parasuram on the Raaga Thodi. It was fabulous. He is a wonderful musicologist and a great teacher and communicator. Regardless of how ignorant we are, at the end of his lecture, we feel that we have learnt a lot. That is a tribute to his skill, knowledge and communication.

The concert that followed the lec-dem was by R. Suryaprakash. It was forgettable, despite the best efforts of M.A. Sundaresan on the violin and Thiruvaroor Bhaktavatsalam on the Mrdangam. Then, it was time for lunch with friends and a snooze at my sister’s place.

We had a lovely concert at 4 PM by Shri. ‘Shertalai’ Ranganatha Sharma, accompanied by J. Vaidyanathan on the Mrdangam and B.U. Ganesh Prasad on the violin. It was a lovely unhurried concert with ‘O Rangasayee’ as the main piece and before that, was ‘Ennadum Urage’ in Shubapantuvarali. JV was very correct in his percussion support. Never tried to outdo the main artist. I was not happy I had to leave slightly early to catch Ranjani -Gayatri at Brahma Gaana Sabha for a 6:00 PM concert.

They are popular artists and they have seldom disappointed me. But, today, when I left the concert hall at 9:00 PM, I did not have that wholesome feeling. More applause than before and more singing for the applause now. They are at their peak now. It is not the time to go ‘long’.

20.12 was day-off from concerts, to write the MINT column and catch up with other work.

21.12 and 22.12 in Delhi to bring daughter to Chennai. Haze and pollution were too bad when I was there.

23.12 (Wed.) back to the concert circuit. It was V. Shankar Narayanan’s lec.-dem on Vivadi Raagas. He is a personal friend.  We enjoyed his kritis and his witty explanations of Vivadi Raagas and Swaras. Come to think of it, artists use Janya Raagas more than they use Mela Karta raagas (e.g, Needhimathi, Raagavardhini, Chalanattai, Senapati, Soolini). Udupi Srijit was lovely on the violin. He is the third of the three brothers who are into Carnatic Classical Music ( The family is blessed.

Then, we stayed back for the 4:00 PM concert solo-vocal by Dr. Sriram Parasuram. It was Pradosham day. Hence, even though the platform was provided by Sri. Parthasarathi Swami Sabha, he started with ‘Thevaaram’ (‘Piththaa Pirai Soodi’). He used Kumadakriya (‘Ardhanaareeswaram’) and the main piece was in Shankarabaranam.

His keertana by Akka Mahadevi on Mallikarjuna Swami rendered in Pahadi was moving as was his Abhang that followed. In my view, he has the best Abang rendition. You are swaying spontaneously.

We ended the day with a visit to the Shri. Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. Lovely to listen to a Tamil discourse, Vedic chanting and the rendering of ‘Siva Puranaam’. We sat down and recited it with them and left for home.

On 24.12, I went for a lec.-dem on Nandi and Percussion. I was left by 75 minutes. I had only 45 minutes. But, I did not have to regret it. The artist, a lovely old man (Thiruvidaimarudur Radhakrishnan) was not really up to it. His vocal support, Vaikom Jayachandran had a great voice but mispronounced நெஞ்சே as நஞ்சே (that means not heart but poison).

Then, I came to Narada Gana Sabha for the 4:00 PM concert by Sanjay Subramanian. He has received the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ from the Music Academy this year. The hall was full. He did not disappoint. He took some time to settle down. But, once he sang a kriti in Atana he hit full stride. Then, came the main piece in Thodi which was also RTP and then some lovely Tamil Viruththams. Both the vocalist and the violinist excelled in their Thodi Raaga Aalaapana and in the Thaanam that followed. It was quite mesmerising. S. Varadarajan on the violin was more than a match for Sanjay and drew more applause than Sanjay on occasions. Quite deservedly so. Neyveli Venkatesh did not over do it on the Mrdangam. Good for him.

Overall, it has been a good season of listening for me, so far.

I personally think that it was right to go ahead with the season. Kalki magazine has a good lead article on it in its issue dated 27th December. TM Krishna had not been pleased that the season has gone ahead. He thinks that it is insensitive.  I think one could be sensitive and still go about the normal pattern of living. Nothing else has stopped in Chennai. It is a personal choice. The instituions have done well to go ahead.

It was good to read in Kalki, however, that TM Krishna had trained some young children in singing Shri. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s short krithis in Sanskrit.

If you have artists to suggest, I would be grateful. I am told that Bharati Ramasubban (vocal) and J.A. Jayant (flute) are to be watched.

The little we heard of Apoorva-Anahita sisters was promising.

Another update or two later.